Poetry for children

One of my favourite things to do with Frida is to read poetry together. We curl up in an armchair, or on the sofa, or I read to her whilst she is in the bath, or on a train, or whilst she plays. Although I love reading story books, or factual books, with Frida, I definitely find reading good poetry to her the most enjoyable in terms of reading aloud.

The benefits of reading poetry to children are huge. I would argue that poetry has a big role to play in building the foundations for literacy.

Poetry is a wonderful way to build a child’s vocabulary and language structure. With the rhymes inherent in so many poems, even very young children can easily learn new words. The very nature of poetry demands for precise vocabulary to match the rhythm and rhyme of the poem, which means language is often more imaginative and varied than in a story book.

Poetry also encourages children to recognise patterns.  Poems are often repetitive in their structure and/or meter and/or language, which is brilliant for recognising patterns. Often children will be able to guess which word will come next despite having never heard a poem before, because they have understood the pattern.

Reading poetry to your child is also really enjoyable – a big benefit in my eyes! But don’t stop at just reading it. Memorise and recite some of your favourites (start short and work up), and encourage your child to memorise and recite them with you. They can do this long before they can read the poems out loud! This might sound unrealistic, but many parents find that their toddlers have learnt parts of their favourite books off by heart. Poetry is no different!

“Experts in literacy and child development have discovered that if children know eight nursery rhymes by heart by the time they’re four years old, they’re usually among the best readers by the time they’re eight.”

[Fox, M. (2001). Reading Magic. San Diego, CA: Harcourt.]

You could begin by pausing before the end of each line of the poem, to allow your child the chance to finish it, then gradually leaving out more and more, giving them the chance to fill in the gaps, before finally asking them if they would like to tell you the poem. Of course they may well need no encouragement; I often hear Frida reciting short poems and verses to herself, and the delight and pride she takes in doing so is obvious. Your child may surprise you!

You can also make up silly poems together, a brilliant way of exploring rhyme and developing phonemic awareness.

Building a child’s poetry collection

Starting a poetry collection for your child might seem a little daunting, but it doesn’t need to be! Start with a couple of classics – don’t forget to make use of your local library too! – and take it from there. Maybe there were poems you loved as a child you would like to share?

If you are thinking of starting a poetry collection for a young child, here are some of my recommendations. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but I think this would provide an excellent base for any  child’s book collection, and they are certainly all books which we read often and love.

When We Were Very Young by A. A. Milne. This is a must-have in my opinion. We read this so often!

Now We Are Six by A. A. Milne. Ditto. Simply superb.

Out and About: A First Book of Poems by Shirley Hughes. Gorgeously illustrated, gentle poems. I would recommend this to every family with toddlers.

A Child’s Book of Poems by Gyo Fujikawa. The illustrations in this volume are superb, as are some of the poems included.

Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot. So much fun! The language is fantastic and the poems are brilliant. Buy this if you want your child to effortlessly learn words such as prestidigitation and suavity.

The Complete Nonsense and Other Verse by Edward  Lear. We LOVE Lear’s nonsense poems – you have probably heard of the Owl and the Pussycat, his most famous one. When Frida was a tiny baby I could always calm her down if she was upset by reciting “The Quangle Wangle’s Hat”.

I would also add in a good nursery rhyme collection; we have The Puffin Book of Nursery Rhymes illustrated and compiled by Raymond Briggs.

If you enjoy reading poetry and rhymes together, I would encourage you to learn some simple verses together too, perhaps involving some finger-play. We love Waldorf-inspired verses and have been lucky enough to learn some through the Steiner playgroup we attend. There are too many to share with you, but a google search should bring up many!

I will leave you with one of Frida’s favourites:

“A big big cat, (open your hands further apart horizontally)

“And a small small mouse, (bring your hands closer together)

“Lived together in a tall tall house. (open your hands further apart vertically)

“But the big big cat (open your hands further apart horizontally)

“Ran fast fast fast, (use your hands to make running paws)

“And the small small mouse was… (bring your hands closer together but don’t close them)

“Caught at last!” (clap your hands as if catching a mouse)

Do you enjoy poetry or verses with your child? Which are your favourites?

“I like them so much!” Ostheimer review + discount code 

Frida’s most beloved toys are without any doubt her collection of wooden animal figures. These are played with all day, every day, with the rest of her toys mere accessories for her animals, acting as homes or caves or oceans or food, and I have watched as her imaginative play, storytelling skills, and vocabulary have flourished whilst she plays. With this in mind, I have been wanting to try out Ostheimer figures for a while now – their animal figures are natural, ethical, and absolutely stunning.

I was delighted, therefore, when One Hundred Toys offered us the chance to review some Ostheimer figures. The lovely Alexis made up a beautiful selection for Frida to play with, sending her the hunter, a wolf, a goose, a fox, a fawn, a rabbit with its ears up, and a running rabbit.

Ostheimer toys are all individually carved from native German hardwoods such as maple and ash, and then painted by hand, giving every figure a unique look and feel – no two are identical. These beautiful figures are then dipped in an all-natural walnut oil, giving them a soft finish. They feel wonderful, very tactile and pleasing for little hands.

In an age where machine-made, identical, disposable plastic toys seem to rule, I think that these toys are so special. Ostheimer toys will be especially appealing for parents inspired by a Montessori or Steiner approach, where there is a strong focus on providing a beautiful environment for our children, featuring natural materials where possible – in fact, one of the core Montessori principles for creating a prepared environment is beauty.

Being wooden, these toys won’t break or run out of batteries, so will last for years and can then be handed down to others, avoiding landfill. They also encourage children to use their imaginations and play creatively – there are so many uses for them! Even very young children can enjoy the sensory experience of holding a wooden figure (especially as these are safe to mouth as they don’t use harsh chemicals or dangerous paint) or enjoy a puppet show by their parent or caregiver. This is a lovely introductory article to puppet play the Steiner way and I have certainly seen Frida transfixed by the simple puppet shows at our parent child group. I also love this blog post on using animal figures in play.

When I gave Frida her new toys, she immediately started to play with them, incorporating other toys and launching into a complex story of animals being friends and running away from each other and sharing their homes. I took this as a very good sign! After a little while I asked her what she thought about the figures, and she replied “I like my new toys SO MUCH!”

She has been playing with them non-stop since they arrived, the hunter being at times a postman, a farmer, and a daddy (and also brilliantly fulfilling the role of hunter in Peter and the Wolf, Frida’s favourite piece of music). The rabbits in particular have rarely left her side, and we have had a lot of fun building different habitats and backdrops for the figures together.

If you’re just starting to think about buying some natural, open ended toys for your child, or perhaps you’re being asked by relatives what to buy for birthday or Christmas gifts, my recommendation would be to start with a few animal and human figures such as these Ostheimer ones (you could start with animals your child already knows and loves), a couple of playsilks, and some wooden blocks. Just these few toys would open up so many play opportunities and give room for young imaginations to take pride of place!

Ostheimer vs Holztiger 

The rest of Frida’s animal figures have all been Holztiger, so I was interested in seeing how they compared.

Below is a size-comparison with some Holztiger figures. The smaller ones are Ostheimer, which I actually prefer for little hands (and for storage purposes!); I’ve noticed Frida is really drawn to her smaller animals.

I think the style difference is quite visible too. The Ostheimer feel more natural to the touch – you can really feel the wood grain. Ostheimer figures are a bit more expensive that Holztiger (example the Holztiger wolf retails around £7 whilst the Ostheimer wolf is around £10) but if money were no object I would certainly have chosen to collect Ostheimer for Frida instead as I think there is something quite magical about them.

The two brands work together beautifully and going forward I will definitely be looking at buying more Ostheimer for Frida. On my wish-list for her is this beautiful rabbit hutch which I can see her playing with for hours on end, along with this magical wishing well (currently out of stock but I will be keeping a close eye on its return – something for Christmas I think). They are truly special toys which make wonderful gifts will take pride of place in any child’s home, and I really recommend them – as does Frida.

One Hundred Toys have kindly offered new customers 10% off their first order with the code: FRIDA100

They have so many other wonderful toys and craft items on their site; do have a look!

The Ostheimer figures were gifted to me from One Hundred Toys to review, but this review  is my own honest opinion (and Frida’s!). I only ever recommend things which we have tried and loved. 

I also love the One Hundred Toys blog which you can read here: https://www.onehundredtoys.com/blogs/news 

Toddler art activities: modelling clay 

We have recently introduced Frida to modelling clay! I have such fond memories of using modelling clay (I think we called it plasticine?) as a child, and so was really looking forward to getting some out to use with Frida. 

Although I could have made a batch of playdough and mixed up all different colours, I thought it would be simpler and nicer (and actually a bit cheaper than buying loads of food colouring!) to buy some ready-made modelling clay. 

I went for this stuff by Okonorm as it’s non-toxic and gorgeously bright soft clay that doesn’t dry out at all, despite being stored in open air. 

Although the primary benefit to modelling is that it’s fun, playing with materials like clay, dough and bees wax is so good for young children – the pinching, patting, kneading and rolling all help to build up the muscles and fine motor coordination they will need for holding a pencil and writing. 

I also find it’s a calming activity that we can do together as a family. There’s something so soothing about using modelling clay to create simple figures, even as adults. A few days ago the three of us sat down and modelled and chatted for a while before supper, and it was so lovely to create and play together in that way. And of course, modelling encourages imagination and creativity. 

Frida is still too young to be able to make anything realistic, so what I’ve found she really enjoys is if I make a simple figure or two (say, a cat and a mouse), and then she can make them “food” and “blankets” and so on. This stops her getting frustrated at her own technical limitations whilst allowing her to create purposeful things to use in her play. We have also made simple flowers together, and Frida is getting better at “fixing” models when they break, for example sticking an errant ear back onto a dog! 

This is obviously an approach tailored to Frida’s personality – other toddlers may prefer parents to leave them to it, but Frida definitely prefers us to be involved. 

Do you use modelling clay with your toddler? What’s your favourite way to use it? 

Birthday gifts, age two

Frida will be turning two tomorrow! It feels very strange. On the one hand, I can’t quite believe that I’ve been a mother for two whole years already. Two! It doesn’t feel very long ago at all that we first met Frida and instantly fell head-over-heels in love with her. On the other hand, she seems at times so much older than she is, so much so that it feels bizarre that she isn’t already two.

I have really enjoyed selecting gifts for Frida this year, choosing things she will (I hope) love and want to play with again and again. 

Frida’s biggest focus at the moment is on imaginative play. She plays for hours with her animals and people and Grimms toys, quietly narrating to herself as she plays. Following her lead, therefore, I’ve chosen toys for imaginative play over anything else. 

For her birthday we have bought her: 

  • Grimms Bauhaus mobile home (available here) – Frida loves setting up pretend homes for her figures and animals, so this was a natural choice to extend her play. It’s unbelievably lovely in real life. We love Grimms toys – the play possibilities are endless. 
  • Grimms dolls house crib and toilet (available here) – I thought these would complement the mobile home furniture well. Frida is very interested in toilets at the moment! Also pictured is a Grimms bed which my sister in law bought for her, I thought it made sense to present these together to her. 
  • Grimms doll and baby (available here) – Frida has some figures already, but they were very cheap and it shows. The quality of these is superb and I know she will love playing with them.
  • Pink playsilk (available here) – as a carpet / backdrop for the mobile home.
  • Home by Carson Ellis (available here) – a beautiful book which I am sure she will enjoy reading. 

  • Holztiger bunnies and frog (available here) – Frida especially enjoys rabbits at the moment following the Beatrix Potter books, so I thought she would enjoy a couple more. She doesn’t have a frog and I think she’ll like it. She has a lot of Holztiger animals already and they are played with multiple times a day. 
  • Wooden Gruffalo toy (available here) – this was the only gift Frida asked for, after seeing a drawing of a child in a book holding a toy Gruffalo. I’m not a big fan of “character” toys, but she repeatedly told me she would like one, and this figure is ethically made from natural materials.
  • Grimms wave stacker (available here) – Frida has a cave stacker which she uses a lot for imaginative play, and I thought this would be a nice addition for sea scenes.

I will share some photos of our celebrations over the coming days soon. For now, wish me luck as I try to compose myself ahead of tomorrow… 

Celebrating spring 

Ok, so I know that technically spring does not start for another twenty days, but I am impatient and I can’t wait that long! Our winter shelf has had me itching for change since the shoots and flowers of early spring started to appear, and our focus outside has shifted from frost and pinecones to buds and bulbs.

I wanted to share with you a few of the ways in which we will be celebrating spring and using it as inspiration for our activities.

Every season I update this shelf in Frida’s room. Because we have a (very active and inquisitive!) cat, we can’t set up a proper nature table, so this shelf is my compromise.

On Frida’s spring shelf I have put:

We have already spent the last few weeks looking at crocuses, daffodils, blossom, and the buds which are starting to appear on the trees. Although winter is still here (and at times it really feels like it!), spring proper is definitely not far away.

To celebrate spring over the next few weeks and months we will be:

  • Reading seasonal books together.  I’ve put away our winter books and swapped in a few spring ones. I’ll keep adding to our collection though so I would love your recommendations!
  • Going outside, playing outside, eating outside. Puddle jumping, mud squelching, water splashing. Enjoying the flowers that are starting to pop up, continuing our regular trips to the park to see what has sprung up since our last visit a few days ago, eagerly watching as new flowers peek through each time we visit. Going outside a lot is something we do all year round but in spring this is especially magical.
  • Talking of flowers, I’d quite like to do some flower-pressing with Frida, and I’m planning on setting up some simple flower arranging for her too as she’s expressed an interest in doing so.
  • Using these fantastic Usborne flower cards to expand Frida’s knowledge and vocabulary around flowers. I’ve only just given them to her and they are already proving to be a hit.
  • Doing some simple gardening. Planting a few bulbs and planting a few seeds together, so Frida can learn first-hand how plants grow. This book by Gerda Muller looks like it will be a wonderful companion.
  • Visiting city farms more regularly again. The city farms tend to be quieter over the winter (and the ones near us close their cafes which I find very offputting) but spring is a perfect time to visit farms. Hopefully Frida will see some chicks!
  • Dipping for frogspawn, and learning about the frog life cycle.
  • Making and giving May Day posies.
  • Celebrating Frida’s second birthday in April, and my 29th in May.
  • Painting eggs.
  • Easter baking. Buns, breads. Yum.
  • Visiting bluebell woods as a family, and generally planning lots of outdoor day trips to some of the beautiful nature reserves, woods, forests, and outdoor spaces we are lucky to live near.

Whilst Frida is still young I think we will be going by calendar seasons as it makes it a bit easier for her to remember them.

I’m sure I will add lots to this list over the coming weeks, and I’ve just ordered this brilliant looking book which I am certain will provide lots of inspiration for years to come! How are you planning on celebrating spring?

Seasonal shelf: Winter

Happy December!

I have updated Frida’s seasonal shelf in her bedroom, and wanted to share it with you. Although I know it’s not technically winter yet from a meteorological perspective, if we go by the calendar I think it’s justified! 

The books on her winter shelf are: 

  • The Snowman;
  • Winter (Gerda Muller);
  • Robin’s Winter Song (Suzanne Barton);
  • The Winter Hedgehog (Ann and Reg Cartwright);
  • Winter (from the Shirley Hughes Nursery Collection – everyone should own this!); and 
  • Around The Year (pictured open, Elsa Bekow). 

I’ve decorated with:

  • a playsilk;
  • a Holztiger hedgehog and part of a Grimm’s stacking cave;
  • some locally foraged holly;
  • two handmade felt and wool gnomes; 
  • a Grimm’s gnome decoration;
  • pinecones;
  • a tea light holder;
  • a Holztiger evergreen tree and robin; 
  • a skiing figure and old Christmas tree decoration from Tiger; and
  • a tiny wooden house from my childhood (!)

I think there’s something nice about having some books for each season. A lot of Frida’s favourite books are about nature, and also have a strong seasonal element. 

We haven’t put up any other festive decorations in the house yet. Our family is not religious, but we will be lighting candles for Chanukah and putting up a (small, fake – oh the perils of kitten ownership!) Christmas tree, and giving gifts to Frida and our families. I’ve ordered some books on both of these festivals for Frida which I’ll share with you when they arrive. 

Do you try and discuss the seasons with your child? What are your favourite winter books and traditions?

Toddler craft: making a jar lantern 

Last week at Frida’s playgroup we made a jar lantern together, and it was such a lovely and simple craft to do that I wanted to encourage you to have a go! 

To make the simplest jar lantern, all you need is: 

  • a clean jar;
  • some tissue paper; 
  • some clear drying (child safe!) glue; and
  • a tea light candle. 

Tear your tissue paper before you begin sticking as it’s very hard to do once you have sticky fingers! Tearing paper is a great activity in itself for toddlers, as it helps to build their fine motor skills. You could even present this as a separate activity then keep the torn pieces ready to make your jar.

Once your paper is ready, use liberal amounts of clear glue to cover the jar, and demonstrate sticking the paper onto the jar. Then your toddler is good to go! It’s good to leave a layer of glue on the top once all the paper is stuck down to leave a nice shiny finish.

You could also provide glitter, sequins, or paper and scissors to cut out shapes (for older children). I’m really keen to make some pressed-leaf jar lanterns with Frida before Autumn is out too. 

We were supposed to be going on a lantern walk this evening with Frida’s playgroup, but she’s still not feeling 100 per cent better so we decided not to go. 

It will instead sit on our dining table – just as I think it’s important for Frida to have her paintings and drawings displayed, I also think it’s lovely for her to have something she helped make take pride of place on the table.